Radiant: A Love Letter to 2014

Some things never change. Like the fact that I’m putting off writing a research paper to write this. 😛 Anyway, a LOT of things have changed around that, such as the fact that I’m living in a new state, meeting new people, driving, walking, playing dodgeball, singing, designing, and living a totally different life than I was at this point a year ago. And really, that’s what 2014 has epitomized for me; total change. A change of realities, personalities, patterns, behaviors, locations, people, friends, interests, traits, and more. Back at the beginning of this year, I was the same shy, outspoken, generally nice person everyone around me had come to be familiar and comfortable with. Then, stuff happened.

Floodgates Open

Mainly, I started tweeting, using my incredibly inactive (at the time) account from 2011. The first big event I used it for was the show that selected the country of Ukraine’s song for the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest. And I made a spectacle of it, too. I had two iced coffees the day before, and got loads of sugary snacks to accompany my journey into the night to watch the show that started at 3 am my time. After the show started, I decided to load up Twitter and, for some reason, joined in on the commentating party. Normally, it would’ve taken me ages to tweet one thing because of crippling self-doubt, but at this point, thanks to the Christmas season, I was just starting to emerge from a bad spell of depression. So, I just started writing. And, unusually, people were enjoying what I was saying. I got followed by some people and followed them back without a moment of hesitation. Little did I know how important some of these people would become to me later.

So the Ukrainian NF (National Final) came and went, and I finally found a reason to take the Twitter app out of the junk folder on my phone. While I nurtured the account and began to connect with the huge and diverse Eurovision fan community, I was also keeping up with the other selection processes for the rest of the 37 competing countries. One of the earliest shows was Finland’s Uuden Muusikin Kilapailu (UMK) that started at the very end of December.

Now I tend to be a bit of a Nordiphile, in ESC and in general, and since this was the first year I was really following the NFs closely, I was excited to see what Finland would bring after sending some good entries recently. To say I was blown away wouldn’t do the songs justice. Almost every single song was a potential winner somewhere, and even the less enjoyable songs had their bright spots. In particular, I was drawn to a dance pop floor-filler, a touching ballad in Finnish, a soaring alt-rock anthem that would end up winning, and, probably most bizarrely of all, a pop-punk song.

The process of growing up was never a simple one for me. Competing for attention in a household with, at any given time, three siblings, one grandmother, a renovation, two businesspeople for parents, and no solid schooling environment was tough, and when I finally settled into a routine, I didn’t have any base inside of myself. What did I like to do? Read, I guess. I mean, that’s what I think I would answer. Who are my favorite musicians? Mozart and I share a birthday and I play the violin, so that’s it, probably. Then the school day’d be over and I’d binge watch cartoons, draw, write, and try to remember the melody of that Sum 41 song I heard on the radio in the car coming home that afternoon. The true essence of myself had been boxed up and hidden away behind an assortment of curtains that looked presentable enough but never felt worth attention.

After listening to all the Finnish hopefuls, I decided that MadCraft’s “Shining Bright,” the humble, honest, just so damn good pop-punk song was my favorite, to the shock and awe of the few friends I could say I had at this point in time on a Eurovision forum. I listened to the song more and more before the first live performance of the song for a vote sometime in late January. This was also when I started to find people and friends through Twitter. For the first time, I wasn’t afraid to outwardly support something that I loved; the curtain had been ripped down, and something real was finally coming from me.

2014 also marks my 18th year of existence. I graduated high school at the ripe age of 17 after testing out of kindergarten when I applied to enter a private school. But, in May 2013, after accepting a scholarship package to study international relations at Seattle University, I had a change of heart, declined the offer, and began to search for graphic design programs at art schools around the country. This meant that I would be stuck at home for a year doing god knows what. I ended up managing insurance at my mother’s dental office. Now I would call everyone there who worked with me a friend, but at the beginning, I did feel like I had failed myself, since no one I was working with possessed more than a high school diploma. Combine that with the monotony of filing, entering data, and my chronic depression, and I had a very dark spell between about July and December of that year. Christmas was lifting me out of that; I got my very first iPhone as a surprise gift from my normally frosty Dad, snow was falling, I was getting active in online song contests, and I didn’t feel like as much of a let down as I did before.

In UMK, MadCraft advanced through the semi-finals and second chance round. Along with growing more relationships, my 18th birthday hit on the 27th of January. I made sure my 1,000th tweet would coincide with the day and thanked everyone who was there with me at the time. That song still remained a constant on my playlist, even if I had ripped it from YouTube because it wasn’t available in the United States at the moment. 😉 Just making friends, a concept already foreign enough to me, by being myself was insane and difficult to wrap my head around. But basing it off of music? The part of myself I always considered most wrong and out of line with my nice clean presentation? It was crazy, fulfilling, and beautiful.

On 1 Feburary, I opened my laptop around 10:30 am and logged onto the official Eurovision website to watch the final of UMK. I also opened another window for Twitter so I could follow along. My screen name had been changed to support “Shining Bright,” the fifth song out of eight that would be performed. The organizers had a pre-show broadcast that went out to web viewers where they were reading tweets and they started to read one of my friend Arianna’s. The joy that swept over me in that moment, knowing that I was a part of this huge thing, even in an indirect way, was astonishing. I watched the show and enjoyed every song on offer. And when “Shining Bright,” my new little anthem of sorts was performed on stage for the last time, I did shed a little tear.

At the end of the show, MadCraft were in last place after the five professional jurors voted. I would’ve been sadder, had my second favorites, alt-rockers Softengine, not won, so it wasn’t a total sadfest, but I was a little disappointed. Even then, back in January, MadCraft and I had followed each other on Twitter, so this wasn’t the end of that relationship. And this month, February 2014, was probably the best one of my life.

The Dream

My 18th birthday was on a Monday. I got the day off from work while an on again-off again friend of mine and I went for coffee and pastries to celebrate. On the same day, my father took a trip to Phoenix, Arizona to have his prostate, which had a minuscule trace of cancerous cells on it found in 2011, examined. It turned out that, instead of a tiny amount, it was two big tumors on the sides of the prostate. He dropped everything to commute to and from Phoenix for five weeks, starting the week after the UMK final. My mom was shocked and hurt at my dad’s exclusionary, inflammatory actions (not saying goodbye to her before leaving to the airport, ignoring her, not sharing his feelings with her, etc.). My brother was an emotional wreck, as he had to deal with his idiot big brother and bitch of a mom. And me? I was left holding the bill, responsible for carrying everything and everyone through it.

I let them be and submerged myself in Eurovision. And that was easily the best decision of my life. It was one of the few selfish things I’ve ever done for myself and ended up being the most rewarding. Because that’s what got me through my dad’s absence, a terrible job, toxic home life, and feelings of dread that were decreasing every day. Finally, a week after the final of UMK, I had this dream. I journaled it as a blog post, so excuse the formatting, but here it is.

Okay, so I found this song ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-M1AtrxztU ) yesterday and probably listened to/watched the video about 15 times. Super catchy, right? After that, and a lot of national final catching up, I go to bed. Here’s where it gets odd.

Normally I dream about batshit insane stuff. Like a high school that has one door into a huge arena right next to a normal classroom. Or about a missile that turns into a regenerating movie theater/hospital/community center. You get the picture. So the opening scene is me walking down a street next to a parking structure. Instead of cars or a ticket booth being at the entrance, there’s a group of people with a bunch of colorful posters. I approach the mass of people and it turns out to be my favorite Finnish pop-punk band (as well as band in general) MadCraft! And they’re auditioning new members for… something (I didn’t catch that). Anyway, I can’t sing or play any instruments but apparently I could here. So I tried out for my “position” and got it. Pretty generic now, right? Just wait.

The next act (yes I’m calling the dream segments that) has me waking up in a slightly messy, totally white room. It’s gig day and I’m under the impression that it’s at 19:00. Well, it’s at 17:30 and I’ve woken up at 16:45. So I pull myself together insanely quickly and make it to the venue. They are a little upset but nothing too major and we go onstage. At this point of the dream, I get my only clue about what I’m doing, since I’m singing in front of a microphone. Anyway, it goes pretty well and *cut*

For some reason, I’m now at my actual home doing dishes at the sink and talking to my mother about how I’ve been. She asks me about school and how nice it’s been and I answer in the affirmative. Apparently it’s my last night there and I’m leaving early in the morning or late that night, because her next line is “well don’t go to the golf courses in Finland.” WTF? I like Finland but I’ve never thought of school there. In fact, I’m already going to Santa Fe, NM for school. But it’s just a dream, whatever. Then something really strange happens. I blurt out some line about being in the band. Super matter of fact and out of left field.

Finally, I’m back in Finland, even though it looks more like Sweden in my unconscious head, and I’m riding on a highway with the band. There’s a warm feeling of happiness that envelops me before I wake up. However, that feeling crosses over to me and I wake up feeling uniquely satisfied.

The day continues normally when I decided to listen to “Rather Be” again. Even though I bought the single already, I really enjoy the video, so off to YouTube I went. If you haven’t watched the video already (I suggest you do), the story is that the Japanese girl starts seeing the band members all the time. A fun concept and good execution make for an overall satisfying clip.

Spooky right? Well, I thought about it all day before going to the restroom (no laughter). Then it hit me; I just had a dream about the future, my future, set to the story of a music video. Thinking about all the elements in a certain way just made it realization fall on my head like a sack of bricks.

I’ve always been a timid and obsessive person; if I couldn’t do it perfectly, there was no chance of me doing it. That makes my presence in a band, a musical entity, so weird, since I can’t sing at all, nor play any instruments. Well, I used to play the violin but I doubt MadCraft would ever do a single, featuring Clean Bandit *fantasizes, then faints* .

Also, I’m horrible with time management. Especially when it comes to waking up. So it’s unsurprising that this issue is brought up here. Unlike a lot of times in real life, though, this ends happily and without incident. And instead of sleeping through the event, I just woke up a bit too close to the time.

Then comes the revelation of my six-month band lifestyle to my mother, which would absolutely never happen in actuality. Hell, I’ve been a Eurovision fan for three years and haven’t told but two people about it. It stems from my childhood, since I never had any privacy. Today, I value that more than anything.

With that background information, let’s apply what happened in the dream to my actual life. I’ll be away from home in Santa Fe (hopefully also in Milan, but that’s further down the timeline) at an art school, doing things all by myself and taking risks when it comes to what I know about design. Each event in the dream represents an eventual step in the future. I’m going to have to learn how to draw (singing in the band), get to/do shit on time (waking up late), and getting more comfortable with my parents about stuff like Eurovision (the kitchen revelation).

My jaw was at my feet at this point. Finally, there’s the last scene, where I’m on the road dozing off. That represents some sort of success, right? It must, especially if it’s a tour bus. Well, the fact that the happiness in the dream transferred over to real life means that I’ll be okay. And after stressing about school, independence, relationships, and other assorted nonsense, that feeling of warmth and security couldn’t come at a better time. It took a crazy dream to tell myself that it’ll be okay, not only in general, but in the sense that I’ll succeed at what I love. And that was more valuable than any dream I’ve ever had.

The feeling of warmth I had in that moment was the spark that finally drove out my inner darkness, and it all came from a song. A song called “Shining Bright,” which was what my soul was doing for the first time since I was a toddler. And it pushed me out into a brand new world, full of possibilities. I grew meaningful friendships on Twitter, became a viable support system for my fracturing family, and, most importantly, a happy person.

Life Anew

National final season came and went, ending later in March with a new network of joy that extended far beyond the borders of my real world. My dad returned home, cancer-free and healthier than ever before, and my family celebrated with a trip to California, meeting my two sisters, who put aside their personal issues with my family to be there. That aforementioned warmth defined the vacation, and it still is the most meaningful and valuable time with my family that I’ve ever had.

The rest of the month, along with April rushed by in a stream of peaceful speed. My job didn’t seem as sucky, my family not so bad, and myself not so terrible. Nights were spent on my little green iPhone, scrolling through Twitter and engaging in conversations with whomever happened to be online at the time. And without remembering the details of a single one, I can easily say that those were some of the most worthwhile interactions I’ve ever had with other humans.

Russia’s Sochi Winter Olympics started the first week my father was gone. Evenings after work were spent with my mom watching the events on TV while she read her books and I was on my phone, both of us at peace. Then, my sister came to town for a weekend. The five of us went out to a college basketball game where our local humane society was holding an adoption drive. A friend of my sister’s had a dog, a little caramel puppy, who ended up having the two most powerful people on my father’s earth, my brother and sister, fighting for his inclusion into our family. And so, we came home with Moose. That following week, my brother’s emotional stress reached its breaking point, and when my father was packing up to leave for Arizona, he had a full meltdown. My mother scrambled to buy him a plane ticket, which she did, and he was sent to Phoenix for the week.

I’d never had a pet before. I mean, sure, I grew up in a dog-owned household, but I had never been able to say one of our dogs was mine. And I didn’t think I would with Moose, either. But this dog, this month, this year, were different. And during that week, I helped train him, feed him, and comfort him. Since he was only two months old, I built him a rickety staircase out of pillows and books up onto the sofa so he could sit with me as I watched the Olympics and tweeted. I bonded with that dog, and even when my brother came back and started claiming Moose as his, both me and the dog knew that we were the real team.

10 May was the day of the Eurovision final, with semifinals taking place on the 6th and 8th. The week earlier, I had a relapse and felt down for the first time in a while, probably because the Eurovision year was coming to an end. But nevertheless, my mother and I saw it fit to start sessions with the professional counselor that worked on our floor at the building where the office was. Even though I went in with the objective of discovering coping mechanisms, it didn’t turn out that way, but did become an effective place to let out my feelings; I’d created something different out of a bad situation. Thematically inline with the rest of 2014 so far.

Summer was as long as it had ever been, and I was adjusting to a new reality of a post-Eurovision existence. Twitter was now an ordinary part of my life, still a conduit of enlightenment and enjoyment. My family was as dysfunctional and loving as ever. But I, I was new. Born again from new source material that didn’t come from either my parents, my family, my house, my school, or even my city. Finally, I was radiantly me, shining bright into the world.

Epilogue

Those months passed, and the end of August rolled around, which meant it was time to finally move to uni. And unlike I had in 2013, I felt more than ready. My fear of abandonment had disappeared into the internet’s ether and I was ready for anything, which was the same feeling that propelled me through the year. But, like everything else that happened to me in 2014, my experience was better than I’d ever expected. I was making friends. Real, in person, friends, who seemed to actually enjoy me and provide meaningful companionship for the first time ever. I was handling classes and my health well, and everything was swell. The months hurried by to where they are now, here in November, as the year winds down and winter drops its first snowfall. I’ve probably listened to the same acoustic mix of “Shining Bright” that I’ll leave this post with 15 times. And, most of all, I’m in awe. Awe of how different everything in my life is in terms of location, friends, interests, passions and personality. I’m in awe of how this little boy from Texas has become such a remarkably forward and involved uni student in New Mexico. In awe of how I’ve touched and been touched by so many people from around the world. In awe of the happiness I’ve found and kindled for 11 months. And finally, in awe of what’s next in 2015. I have plans to jet to Vienna to finally see Eurovision live in person. I’ll have a semester of school experience to build from. And, most importantly, I’ll have the memories of an unforgettable year full of friends, family, and, you guessed it, warmth.

-Nick

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13 comments on “Radiant: A Love Letter to 2014
  1. wschmidt1206 says:

    Dear Nick,

    what an amazing story!!! Let me just tell you that I was deeply moved by your words in whole.
    You have a beautiful mind and soul, and I felt sooo much reminded on how I was and thought when I was at your age.

    And the story about your father reminded me very much on what I went through during Eurovision week 2012. That was the week when my father, after suffering from a heart attack, had a serious heart operation with getting three bypasses. Normally you wake up again from the coma after 2 at least 3 days. But my father did not wake up for about 8 days. To me this was the most horrible week I can ever imagine, and I have never been so scared before all my life!
    Then came Eurovision Final Day 2012, and while I was watching the votings (with my mother), the reliefing phone call from the hospital came exactly 5 minutes after Loreen was announced as the winner of the 57th edition of the ESC. You can imagine that “Euphoria” has a very special meaning to me since that day, in a double sense. It is the soundtrack of the rebirth of my father, who is the most wonderful person in my life. The feeling of losing me made me love him even more than ever before.

    The next day, Sunday after Eurovision final, we went to hospital and he was there again talking to us, which to me was like a little wonder or miracle. One of the happiest days in my life strongly connected withe the Eurovision! That was also the day when I became member of the Eurovision family. 😉

    Thank you so much that you shared your story here, which is so beautiful to me, as it reminded me pretty much on myself!

    Thousand greeting from a Eurovision friend in Germany,

    Wolfgang

    • Nick P. says:

      Wolfgang,

      Thanks so much for your kind words and for sharing your story. 🙂 I was really touched by your story. I can’t imagine going through something so scary.I know I frequently complained about ESC coming around the same time as exams in school in the US, but it was certainly never that bad.

      I’m so glad you joined the Eurovision family and that you, me, and so many others can share stories like this.

      Sincerely,
      Nick

      • wschmidt1206 says:

        Hello again,

        it is my pleasure getting such nice words in return.

        I truly love your “Love letter to 2014”!

        What I forgot yesterday was that, when I first read your story, there was a song that came immediately on my mind. Although I am not a fan of adult contemporary Christian music, this one is one of my favourite tunes from the 90’s, if not of all time!

        It helped me getting my troubled mind on the right track and somehow I took some strength out of it during difficult times in 1990. Your story brought it all back on my mind ;). This song really has a special meaning to me, and I never shared it with anyone before. But to me it feels good and right to share it with you, as the first.

        It is just a simple sentimental ballad, but to me it meant the world at that time. Maybe it is not your taste of music, but I hope you like it a little, too.

        And here it is:

        Ridiculously, we share nearly the same name! Mine would be in English “W. Michael Smith”. Back in 1990 I really thought that Michael would sing this song just for me, but no one else!

        I would have loved to stay in your country when this was a No. 1 on the Billboard charts; his only one, I think! There are songs that one always loves and that never grow old. To me this is the case with “Place in this world”! It is my “Shining bright”, which I like, too!

        If you are interested in and like to read my sad story with a happy ending, write me an e-mail to wo.schmidt69@gmx.de and I will write it down for you! Only if you like ;)!

        I wish you all the best for your uni work and much more success in life, and never forget:

        your true colors are beautiful like a …….!

        Kind regards from Germany and it is so nice to meet/read you,

        Wolfgang 🙂

  2. togravus says:

    This is a very touching story, Nick, and since I am a literary historian, allow me to add: a well written one too. And it is a very happy story written be a guy who has obviously found his place and way in our terribly complicated world. And btw, I think that I speak for most of the ESC community if I tell you that I am happy that you found us. 🙂

  3. I’ve read the story, since you sent me the link; and I can’t help but wonder one thing: before, people used to write down in their diaries such inner thoughts. Nowadays, people blog them. We went from the sphere of privacy to total openness. And yes, even though you mostly expect close friends to read it, there’s still the possibility of total foreigners reading you. And indeed, does that affect what you write, and ho you write it, at all? I’d say completely. It’s weird because, whereas this would have been touching if it were sent solely from you to friends, it feels to me now like I was a voyeur into a personal intimacy because of how public the publishing of the story is. But that’s my first personal reaction.

    The rest doesn’t bring much thoughts to me, since I’m no psychologist and never pretend to be one (even if running a blog impleis to be one to some extend when people fight for instance), but I’d say that, as long as one is “happy enough” it’s good, so being fully happy and at one with yourself, can’t be better.

    • Nick P. says:

      To respond to your first point, it can confirm that it did change completely and I did write it with the expectation that people I didn’t think would read it would. However, compared to living the past 17 years of my life in near total secrecy, I want to share with everyone. Had I not meant for a wide variety of people to see this, I would’ve made it private and sent certain people the link. But I wanted to extend the bracing openness of 2014 that I’ve lived in to this essay,so I made it public for everyone to see. 🙂

      As for your second thought, there’s a big difference, because one was being happy for moments in between long stretches of greenness, while the state I’m in now is opposite, being blissful most of the time with occasional, healthy periods of discontent.

      • I see. Well if you’ve felt like this was the right way to handle it, sure! There’s always that one year we feel a strange connection to in our lives anyway, except that year changes with time (first job, settling into a relationship, a new place, etc.) so it’s not bad to write things as they move along. And it’s not bad to attach them with the art you encountered. If anything it’s better.

  4. Oh and on some unrelevant matters, since taste is subjective, Madcraft were my absolute last in that brilliant UMK 2014 line-up.

    • Nick P. says:

      Of course. xD Nine months after the fact, and I still can remember how I was the only person on ET (aside from Hulluna, but she was silent a lot) who supported them. Well, if I’m objective, I can see your point to a certain extent, but there are non-musical factors at play here, which became a lot more important to me than “is it good or not” (which it is, it’s very good 😛 ).

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